Sooner or later, most couples hit an emotional brick wall.
By Jean Fitzpatrick
Last updated on Dec 02, 2023
Photo: cottonbro studio | Canva
You know the punch lines to all his jokes. You’re that couple who sit in a restaurant with nothing to say. At bedtime, you never thought you’d be pretending to have a headache. “I can’t make myself feel any different,” one woman in my office told me tearfully. “The magic’s gone.”
“Sooner or later, most partners hit an emotional brick wall,” I told her. “Now your real marriage begins.” Once you’re past the initial madly-in-love stage, you have the opportunity to discover the down-to-earth blend of friendship and true intimacy that characterizes long-term happy marriages.
The writer Robert Johnson describes this kind of relationship as “stirring-the-oatmeal love,” a calm and deeply nourishing contrast to the quick high we spike from a forkful of chocolate marble cheesecake.
Here are 3 ways to put the spark back in your marriage.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
Remember the spontaneous fun you two had in your dating days? Often couples settle into routines — one watching the game while you play Words With Friends, do errands and home repairs, and party with the crowd.
Sure, these are comfortable, but there’s nothing like going beyond your four walls to create a sense of shared adventure and a reminder of what makes you two special as a couple. That doesn’t have to mean planning a pricey vacation. Take a walk in a neighborhood or on a hiking trail you haven’t seen before. Try a new sport or volunteer at a local food pantry.
Photo: Aleksandr Khmeliov, via Shutterstock
2. Focus on appreciating the small, simple things.
Maybe he usually cooks dinner, you do the dishes, he takes out the trash, you vacuum — you’re like a well-oiled machine and everybody feels taken for granted. Focus on small, more personal acts of generosity: Bring each other a cup of coffee, volunteer to walk the dog, and offer a hug when your partner least expects one.
The National Marriage Project recently reported that couples who reach out this way are far more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” in their marriage. Make the effort to acknowledge your partner’s small gestures of kindness with a smile and a thank you, and watch each other light up.
3. Deal with conflict.
In a successful relationship, we need to let go of certain things or be patient about them, but that’s not the same as sandbagging important issues that need to be confronted safely and reasonably. When we habitually block disagreements instead of working on them, we end up with a hardening of the matrimonial arteries.
Are you tackling chores every evening after work while your spouse does their fantasy sports league? Are you getting defensive reactions or dead silence when you try to talk about problems? Chances are the two of you need to develop more constructive ways of managing conflict.
Spicing up a stale marriage takes time and energy, but I see couples do it every day. You’ll need to shift your focus from asking, “What has my partner done for me lately?” to “How can we work together to reenergize this relationship?”
Working as a team to reinvigorate your marriage can work wonders. The big surprise? Over time, you’ll discover you’ve fallen in love with your partner all over again.
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Jean Fitzpatrick is a marriage counselor and psychotherapist who has served couples and individuals in the New York area for over twenty years. As a relationship therapist, Jean helps busy people expand their relationship toolkit and discover new ways to connect with the people they love.